When I felt out of place as an immigrant, family and writing helped me connect

Throughout 2021, our Press Democrat newsroom has undergone many changes. We have welcomed new staff from markets across the country to fill vacancies, while also assigning existing journalists to new rates or areas of coverage. These measures focus on one goal: to be an even more essential source of local information for readers of Sonoma County.

To better familiarize you with those who pursue and produce the stories you read daily, today we’re launching a new occasional series. “Behind the Byline” introduces you to those who write stories, take photos, design pages and edit the content we deliver in our print editions and on pressedemocrat.com. We are more than journalists. As you will see, we are also your neighbors with unique backgrounds and experiences that proudly live in Sonoma County.

Today we introduce to you Nashelly Chavez, our reporter on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Enjoy getting to know our staff, and thank you, as always, for reading.

Richard A. Green, Editor-in-Chief


I never really liked Hot Tamales, the chewy cinnamon candy that I managed to avoid for most of my childhood.

So when my sixth grade teacher asked me to bring Hot Tamales to a class party, my mind immediately turned to the tamales that I have always loved; those made of steamed corn dough filled with delicious meats and wrapped in corn husks.

On the day of the party, as the other students in my class were carrying bags of Skittles, Starbursts, and M & Ms, my mom and I arrived with a new batch of handmade tamales.

The greedy bites of the other students in the individually wrapped delicacies signaled to me that no one was really upset with the substitution.

This misunderstanding was just one of many cultural missteps I made as an immigrant to this country. And by talking with other people, I learned that I am not alone. Everyone made these kinds of mistakes.

These are the types of shared experiences that I want to highlight as a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter for The Press Democrat, a job I took on in April after nearly three years of covering. public safety and crime in our region.

I see my work as writing about people, groups, perspectives, lifestyles, experiences and topics that reflect our entire community and show the intersections of race, class, identity. gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability and economic status.

This deep understanding of the different people who live here, told through their perspectives, provides an opportunity for connection, growth and inspiration and challenges those who see diversity as a dirty word.

Much of my personal interest in this subject relates to my own upbringing.

I moved to Petaluma with my parents and younger sister from Mexico when I was 4.

As an adult, I am grateful to identify with both cultures – the one I inherited from my parents and the one we adopted when we moved north. But, I would be lying if I said the road isn’t bumpy sometimes.

There was a time when I learned the meaning of the major in American culture. I had shown a child that I was going to daycare with a newly lodged splinter in my finger only to immediately report me to the nearest adult. (Sorry!)

In elementary school, I struggled with the intricacies of the English language. This dilemma, it seems, was enough material for my native speaker classmates to tease me whenever the words I had formed in my head didn’t come out of my mouth quite the way I did. had planned.

There have also been incidents of hidden racism, like the time a customer at the candy store I worked in spoke contemptuously to me for apparently no reason, only to have a pleasant chat with a coworker a few minutes later.

The woman did not know that my colleague, who had green eyes and lighter skin than mine, was my cousin whom I had recruited for the job.

Whenever I felt the most belonged in my life, I have always turned to my family.

My father is one of 13 siblings, most of whom live in Sonoma County. Our numbers meant that family gatherings were crowded.

Parents crammed onto sofas, around dining tables and kitchen countertops, while younger children scoured the yard or made seats with stair treads.

Part of what binds us together has to do with our shared responsibility to help each other, a core value that my paternal grandmother instilled in her children from an early age, before they passed it on to their own children.

This ideal grew stronger as my loved ones migrated from Mexico to the United States. My aunts and uncles leaned on each other to find housing, jobs and care for their children.

I regained my belonging in 2013, when I entered my first newsroom during my sophomore year at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Oak Leaf’s headquarters in the far west of the campus barely had enough space for everyone in the class. The suspended ceiling was studded with holes made by pens that the student journalists had repeatedly hung upward until they were embedded in the styrofoam-like material of the acoustic panels.

There, I gained confidence in my writing, although I was embarrassed by the way I spoke and wrote in English for most of my life.

The work we have done has also helped me build stronger ties with the campus itself.

It is that connection – this need for a deeper understanding of the communities I speak of and the people who live there that have grown over the course of my professional career.

Interviewing and writing about people from seemingly disparate backgrounds has almost always sparked my deep respect for the circumstances that have shaped their lives.

Their stories also helped me piece together a more accurate picture of the world we live in today.

I hope the stories I write in my new rhythm, which explores issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, will help us make changes today that will shape our future. And I hope they help us understand what’s at stake if we don’t include diverse people, diverse experiences, and diverse thoughts in these conversations.

You can contact Editor-in-Chief Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or [email protected] On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Five things to know about Nashelly Chavez

1. It is pronounced “Nuh-shell-ee”.

2. I have a 16 year old Miniature Schnauzer / Cairn Terrier mix named Tati who is my best friend.

3. My favorite breakfast is chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican dish of fried tortilla chips, hot and spicy salsa, and eggs.

4. I worked for The Press Democrat for three years and covered public safety and crime before switching to my new pace in April.

5. You can call me at 707-521-5203, email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter at @nashellytweets.

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